The Federation Starship Enterprise is almost three years into its mission into space to discover new life and civilisations with a purpose of making allies of them and inviting them to join their club, yet for the Captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), the excitement that he once felt is definitely beginning to pall. Take this latest request from Starfleet that he hand over a peace offering, some ancient weapon or other, to an alien race that has been at war with another alien race: as an ambassador, Kirk should have had it all sewn up, but in practice the little guys panicked and swarmed over him, necessitating the transporter beaming him up to escape. This is not what he signed up for, and he is seriously considering giving it all up, but that is because he doesn't know what's around the corner...
This third entry in the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise wound up disappointing at the box office, which may have been because by 2016, the fifty year anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's science fiction creation, it was yesterday's news in comparison to another franchise that was grabbing the blockbuster headlines, which also had the word star in the title. Star Wars happened to be another series snapped up by the J.J. Abrams entertainment juggernaut, and The Force Awakens, its own reboot mere months before the release of this, had quickly become the movie to see which led to a seemingly unquenchable thirst for all things Star Wars and a definite neglect for all things Star Trek, which became almost an afterthought.
The previous two in this series had performed very well, yet oddly with Simon Pegg (who co-starred as engineer Scotty) and Doug Jung's script consciously harking back to the original television episodes in its structure and humour, this one did not click with audiences. Was it down to that template being inescapably old hat by this time, a relic of nineteen-sixties television storytelling that no matter how much the fans venerated it was strictly for the nostalgists? There were calls for the whole shebang to be wrapped up after this, but for those who were brave enough to say they enjoyed it, it would have been a shame for it not to continue in this manner as that script was genuinely entertaining (and unafraid to embrace bright cheesiness) so while it was shackled to blockbuster action movies of its day as per director Justin Lin's megahits, it remained distinctive.
What was nice was that emphasis on the ensemble where every crew member played their part, a theme of sticking together and the value of teamwork. It was no coincidence that the villain (Idris Elba) was a stern individualist who was using his skills for a very selfish end, not to mention a destructive one that placed the future of the Federation in doubt were he to get his way, and the Enterprise crew were forced into a situation where they had to demonstrate they were working together as a unified power for good. They were not going to give in to the energy sapping cynicism that ensured nothing would ever get done, they were here for a reason, and though Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) especially were suffering a crisis of faith in the worth of their vocations, it really was important to set an example and perform not one act of decency but multiple acts to make life better.
If anything summed up the sense of optimism out of turmoil that the original Star Trek series promoted from the very height of the sixties, it was that, and Beyond tried nobly to make it relevant for the twenty-tens, a point in time when it was the in thing to be divisive and define yourself by what you opposed rather than the values you should be standing for. If that was rejected by a large proportion of the viewers, especially in a context that did its best to be as fun as it could to sweeten its message of humanity, then it did make you worry for the world, since this was probably the best entry in the rebooted phase of pictures to that stage. It was a fitting send-off for Anton Yelchin, to whom the film was dedicated along with Leonard Nimoy who had also died recently, and Pine, Quinto and Karl Urban as the irascible Doctor McCoy were settling into their roles very nicely this far in, indeed there was a genuine sense of friendship among the main cast of Starfleet that assisted in conveying the belief that sticking together rather than splitting apart was the way forward, though the worry that there will always be somebody who sees the universe as a battleground rather than a wonder of opportunities was vividly present. All that and Sofia Boutella as the stranded alien Jaylah was a fine addition to the Trek landscape. Music by Michael Giacchino.